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Dark magic in Ladakh

on 22 August 2011. Posted in Photography Tours India

On the edge of darkness in Ladakh

Up and out at sunrise in Ladakh: Shepherds' tents in the foreground as the flock heads out.

Our photography holiday Shoot Director in Delhi, India is a Ladakh veteran who visits, hangs out and photographs up in Ladakh several times a year. He's just returned from a planning trip to the high Himalayas, where he met with friends in the elusive Changpa nomad communities and chatted with the Rinpoche (senior monks) up in their picturesque monasteries.

Stuffed into his planning notes and on his camera card are a bunch of great new opportunities and ideas for our 2012 Ladakh photography tour. We're going to build next year's trip around the amazing Korzok Gustor festival… an authentic and deeply moving religious event organised each year by the monks in a time-honoured tradition…

On our Shoot Director's camera card were some gems I managed to convince him to release into my care. A couple in particular are thumbnailed in this article (you'll need to click the thumbnails to make any sense of them) and they capture a bit of the rare light-magic that makes Ladakh such a great magnet for photographers.

These are challenging shots, logistically, technically and artistically. Knowing what might happen and where it might take place, the photographer has waited patiently for a rare combination of light and subject activity.

At sunrise (topmost pic), the sheep are moved out to the high pastures: once herd mentality sets in the flock is on autopilot and the human pilots — the shepherds — return to their tents (foreground) for a cup of tea.

At sundown the Changpa shepherds drive their flocks home. Here, our Shoot Director has waited for the last bright sunbeams of the day to illuminate the moment: failing shafts of sunlight linger between dark hillsides to create a tiny, glorious pool of brightness that picks out fluffy woolgatherers (and their shepherd) in an otherwise near-pitch-black setting.

Daddy's home! Last light in Ladakh.

Many creative and technical choices are encapsulated in this single frame: crop, dynamic range, metering and exposure. Black point and highlights have been carefully judged in-camera. It's a composition mischievously designed to intrigue and entertain the eye rather than inform and explain. I think it's plain dark magic: as our Shoot Director dryly puts it: "I got lucky, twice, this time."

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